In networking, it's said that the first impression is the most lasting impression. The Association for Psychological Science reports that an impression can be made in a tenth of a second – as long as it takes for someone to merely look at you. This first impression can only be changed slowly over time – and sometimes, we don't get that extra time!
Many wonder, then, how to make their first impression the best that it can be when going into events, meetings, or connecting with someone for the first time. While everyone's first impression will be different and highly individual to their most authentic expressions, there are a few pointers that are universal and can help with any first time meeting.
USA Today reported the results from a 2015 study on first impressions: 47% of people said a smile was the first thing they noticed about the other person. No matter how nervous you are (or stressed, if you're stumbling into the meeting in the midst of a bad day), take the time to genuinely smile when you shake hands with the other person. For one, it sets the energetic tone for the meeting. Think about a time you met someone who seemed stressed, distracted, or like they were having a bad day because they didn't smile when you met or were introduced. How did it make you feel? Smiles are how we can feel connected to one another – it establishes trust and camaraderie right off the bat.
Even better, if you are nervous or stressed because it's a big meeting or interview, smiling can help to calm down your nerves. When we smile, the brain releases dopamine and other feel-good neurotransmitters, signaling to the body that it can relax. Yes – that's even true if before the smile, you were on high alert! Just the movement of your facial muscles to make the smile will signal the brain to calm you down and help you feel better. And the more relaxed you are, the more confident you'll appear – and the more confident you'll feel, too. People can pick up on that.
2. Try Visualization Exercises Before
If you need a specific meeting to go particularly well, try visualizing the best case scenario before you even get there. Adam Jacobs is a best selling author and the managing director of Bubblegum Casting , the longest running talent agency in Australia. He tells his talent to spend time visualizing how an audition will go before they show up. "It's beyond just memorizing the script and knowing what you're going to say – I tell the talent to think through their demeanor and what their ideal energy will be like when they walk into the room," he shared with me.
These visualization tactics are also commonly used by athletes before big sporting events – athletes like Serena Williams and Michael Phelps have shared that they used visualization techniques ahead of their meets or matches to imagine themselves performing well – and winning. Once it's been visualized, it's easier to perform. The visualization serves as a practice run, because your brain can't distinguish between whether or not it's actually happening. This practice will help you feel much more comfortable walking into that meeting, interview, or audition.
3. Come With Talking Points
Finally, it's a good idea to prove to the other person that you can hold your own. Research them beforehand and have a mental list of talking points to fill any potentially awkward silence. Perhaps they always post about their Corgi on their Instagram, or your parents went to the same law school they did. These smaller talking points reflect that you did your research beforehand, and that you're establishing points of similarity.
Have three bullet points in your head of these talking points, and recite them to yourself several times before you head into the meeting. That way, even if you're really nervous, you'll be able to reach for the mental notes and begin the talking points. When we talk socially and casually with another person, it's considerably easier to strike a sense of camaraderie, buying you time to relax and feel friendly before it's time for that big pitch or for the interview questions to begin.
Beyond these pointers, make sure to be yourself! These pieces of advice are intended to help you better express yourself and get out of your own way, so your true self can shine.
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